Music has always been a part of Brad Armstrong’s life. Now a seasoned guitar player, Armstrong first learned how to play music on another instrument. “My mother was Polish/Ukranian, so I actually started out playing the accordion. I did that until kids would tease me about what was in the case and I got too embarrassed. I switched over to the guitar around 13 or 14,” he remembers.
These days, Armstrong says he doesn’t go far without his guitar. “It’s my prized possession,” he says. That’s why, shortly after being admitted to the North Bay Regional Health Centre (NBRHC) as an inpatient on the hospital’s surgical unit, he asked for a friend to bring along his guitar.
“I was very scared to be here in the hospital,” he says. “The staff here have made me feel so comfortable and took all the fear away from me,” Armstrong says, his voice filled with emotion. It was then he started looking for a way to give back—and naturally, his first thought was through music.
Armstrong was put in touch with Emily Morin, a Recreation Therapist on the hospital’s inpatient rehabilitation floor. Morin says she met with Armstrong and he shared with her his desire to play his guitar for other patients, and Morin set out to line up a time and place for him to play on their unit. “It was fantastic,” Morin says about Armstrong’s nearly 90 minute performance. “It was very therapeutic for him [Armstrong], and then we had patients filtering out of their rooms who never usually get involved in programming—I think because Brad was so dynamic in his performance.”
Patients and their families were soon joined by nurses, clerks, personal support workers and environmental services staff in taking in the performance. “Brad has such a wealth of musical knowledge he was able to play requests from the audience, and in no time everyone was clapping and singing, patients were even dancing in their chairs,’ Morin says.
Patti Byers, Manager of the unit where Armstrong played, says they often have music programming, but Armstrong’s performance was anything but ordinary. “When I walked by and saw the music was coming from a patient—who was actually performing in a gown and hooked up to an IV—I actually did a double take,” Byers says. “His performance created this amazing atmosphere, not only for the patients, but for our staff and visitors as well. I think having a performance by an inpatient made it even more special.”
Armstrong says the experience was so important for him. “When I don’t play [my guitar] for a few days it feels like I haven’t played for a few years,” he says. “I just felt so welcome, and so great. Just seeing the smiles and the happiness I brought to the people that were there really touched me.”
Lindsay Smylie Smith, Communications Specialist, NBRHC